Sharing solutions to common challenges across Europe

By Joyce Black


07 08 2020


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Back in October 2019 Learning and Work Institute hosted our European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) international conference Upskilling Pathways: Implications for the adult learning workforce, in partnership with EPALE UK.

At the event, we showcased the programme of work we had delivered together with our partners, Scotland’s Learning Partnership; the Forum for Adult Learning Northern Ireland and Learning and Work Institute Wales, over the previous two years.

The European Agenda for Adult Learning defines the focus for European cooperation in adult education policies for 2012-2020.  The Agenda highlights the need to increase participation in adult learning of all kinds (formal, non-formal and informal) either to acquire new work skills, for active citizenship or for personal development and fulfilment. Working in partnership across the UK and at the EU level with a range of stakeholders ensures that knowledge is shared, quality is enhanced, and adult learning continues to play a key role in the national life.

Adult learning is the ‘golden thread’ that should run through all public policy.

We know this is a view shared across Europe.  Since 2012, the UK programme of work has done much to support the European Commission’s ET2020 strategy in supporting national actions and sharing solutions to common challenges particularly in relation to skills deficits (basic skills and digital) and participation in adult learning.

Now we are in 2020, the challenges remain as stark as ever:

  • Access. Literacy, numeracy and technology are the foundation for further learning and the gateway to employment and social inclusion and yet there are still inequalities of access to provision. So this year we will focus on employer engagement with basic skills at both provider and policy level, looking at the workplace benefits of basic skills investment from the employer and provider perspective. In addition, we will be undertaking research UK-wide for best practice of how areas are using different funding streams to develop new local ESOL partnership and co-ordination models.
  • Participation. L&W’s annual participation survey has highlighted over the last 20 years, the positive benefits for the individual and society that participation in adult learning brings, including improved health and wellbeing and productivity. But we also know that the participation rate of just 37% is the lowest in two decades so we need to better understand adults’ motivations for learning, and the other factors influencing their decisions to participate. So our focus for the EAAL programme is to look at this more closely at the UK level so that policy and practice are better informed if we are to halt the ever decreasing participation in learning numbers particularly at a time of increasing unemployment and the real need for upskilling and retraining as a consequence of the current Covid19 pandemic.
  • Demonstrating impact.  Because the UK has different policies for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales we will continue to support UK Impact Forums to contextualise research for local policy makers.  The forums will run four collaborative development projects that builds on the work of the programmes research publications – Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: the impact of adult learning across the UK (2017); Learning, Work and Health (2018); and Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: implications for workforce development (2019).

There’s much to be done in each of these areas.  In the next few months we shall be running a number of online events where the research can be discussed.  Watch this space for more details.

I’m looking forward to building on the successes of our previous work, right up to the end of 2020. I don’t yet know where this journey will take us, but it will be an interesting one and hope you will join us wherever it leads.

By Joyce Black, deputy director for research and development at Learning and Work Institute